Katherina speaks about being a woman entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, and how she has received support from her allies in her entrepreneurial journey.
Katherina Lacey is the Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Quincus. Fascinated by experimental growth, consumer behaviour and the possibilities of social media, she works between Singapore, the UK and France. She has also spent years volunteering for causes to alleviate poverty and push for the dignity of others.
Note to ally: To everyone who braved the storms with me, thank you for being patient. Thank you for being a part of my journey, and I hope to continue making all of you proud.
Strong, bright and confident.
These were the three words that came to my mind when I spoke to Katherina from Quincus, an enterprise SaaS platform that builds solutions for everyday supply chain challenges. Despite meeting virtually on Zoom for the first time, she had a pleasant demeanour, and was very open to sharing her thoughts as a co-founder and woman in the supply chain industry.
“It was very difficult initially when we started off in Brazil,” Katherina recalls. She and her co-founder, Jonathan, often attended meetings together, and there were many times where she would be mistaken by the clients as his assistant. While she was still given respect, she observed that Jonathan was being taken more seriously by the clients than she was, and she was determined to dispel these preconceptions.
“I always went to meetings in skirts. I’m a proud woman, and I’ve never thought that I had to put on pants or act in a certain way in order to prove myself. Also, I’ve always had a bit of a character where I can be assertive if needed.” Katherina laughed and continued, “When I encounter situations where I feel like they were talking more to Jonathan, I would interject the conversation and say, ‘Hi, so let me tell you a little bit about your pain points’.”
I smiled at that, the word ‘confident’ coming back to my mind again. It’s one thing to be able to observe and understand the situation you’re in, but another to have a voice and make yourself heard. Katherina explains that this was because she and Jonathan’s skill sets happened to complement each other really well, so that she was able to jump in and share her thoughts when it was her forte.
I asked her if she thought the gender landscape had changed since she first started in 2014. She agrees that people are now more accepting of women in the supply chain industry. With a glint in her eyes, she exclaimed, “I still get excited when I see women driving an 18 wheeler, or a big truck. This shows that it’s the skills that matter!”
However, she also acknowledges that there are still obstacles to overcome. She explained to me how she would sometimes ride along with the drivers to ensure that they were using the applications correctly, and she would realize how some isolated areas on the route might be more dangerous for women drivers. These safety concerns were important to her, where she would take extra measures.
As the co-founder of Quincus, Katherina also set up a women mentorship group named ‘Women@Quincus’. Interestingly, the idea behind this group started because she was interested to know how many female coders there were in her company.
“At that time, there were probably only 5 women coders, so I was thinking, ‘let’s create a platform where they don’t feel like they are alone and where women can actually meet’, because honestly, we are in an industry that is very male-dominated. There were also probably many common stories that we could share which will help us to create shared goals and experiences. In that group, we can talk about anything from work to personal life, and essentially be a supporting figure for each other.”
However, Katherina also mentioned that ‘Women@Quincus’ is not a totally exclusive group. While the meetings would happen on alternating weeks, they would also meet during other company bonding events that happen on a weekly basis. To Katherina, it is important that everyone at the company gets to interact with each other.
“It’s important that we educate our employees as a team and as a company. It’s not to say that we want to separate the men to one side and women to the other – It’s also about being able to work together and respect each other.”
During the interview, I asked about what her entrepreneurial journey had been like, and if she had an ally who had helped her in the process. She replied, “Sometimes it feels like a tsunami more than just a storm.”
Laughing, she continued, “There had been times previously where I was actually burnt out. That was back when we were still in Brazil, and we were wondering what our next steps were. There were so many uncertainties like if we should continue moving on, or if we should sell the technology. I had been an entrepreneur in residence then at a startup bootcamp, and I met many different entrepreneurs. I exchanged experiences with founders and we supported each other during difficult times. I would say that Jonathan definitely did play a huge role in helping me get through it, but it was also the community of startup founders that I met that made me sure this was the path I wanted to continue walking forward. “
I understood this, having heard from many founders who have experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur. As Katherina said, while everyone has unique problems, it’s because of the shared emotions that they are able to power through the hard times together. That, in itself, is a solid support system.
When reminiscing about her journey thus far, she explains how her support system has impacted her outlook on life, “Personally, the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is that sometimes, you can’t separate your business from your personal life. You’re constantly worried and constantly bringing work home, and that is unhealthy. The biggest lesson my dad taught me was that, ‘Don’t let your business become your life’. This might sound weird to some people, because a common perception is that you don’t feel tired when it’s your passion. However, there is a need to have a social life as well.”
I agreed that there needs to be a conscious effort taken to detach from work, especially now that technology has made work even more accessible for us. There is a need to take mental health more seriously, she concurs, which is why she often set up challenges at Quincus such as a 100km walk challenge to promote healthy living even in the workplace.
When asked about how we could leverage opportunities for women in the workplace, she replied, “For me, it’s not about gender, but about doing your job. It’s actually up to the leadership team as well to make sure that women have a safe environment to be themselves and communicate, then we’ll start to see women grow. Ultimately, it’s all about the company culture and direction.”
While it was just a short 30 minute conversation, I had learned so much from Katherina as a fellow woman. There were plenty of times where women are expected to be a certain way in the workplace, but Katherina here tells me, “Be yourself.” And if we can’t find a place where we feel that we can be ourselves, or our voice isn’t being heard, then it’s up to us to make a change.